“Remember his marvellous works that he has done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth.” (Psalm 105:5)
First the good news, then the bad news?
The Bible often links up two ideas that seem, at first, at odds. The first is the creation, the “marvellous works that he has done” and the second, less welcome idea is the “judgements of his mouth.” I want to think towards the title question through three basic questions that hold those two doctrines (Creation and “Fall”) in tandem and enhance our understanding of a Biblical perspective on life.
- How far did the effects of the Fall spread?
Here’s the Wikpedia summary: “In Christian theology, the Fall of Man, or the Fall, is a term used to describe the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience. Although not named in the Bible, the doctrine of the Fall comes from a biblical interpretation of Genesis chapter 3. At first, Adam and Eve lived with God in the Garden of Eden, but the serpent tempted them into eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, which God had forbidden. After doing so, they became ashamed of their nakedness and God expelled them from the Garden to prevent them from eating from the tree of life and becoming immortal.”
For many Christian groups (but not all) the doctrine of the Fall is closely related to that of Original Sin. They believe that the Fall brought sin into the world, corrupting the entire natural world, including human nature, causing all humans to be born into original sin, a state from which they cannot attain eternal life without the grace of God.
So here’s the thing: God created the whole world and all of life, but how much of it has been damaged by our sin? Some of it, or all of it? Is sin’s impact limited or total in scope?
The Biblical answer is quite clear: the consequences of sin are comprehensive. Nothing has escaped its crushing effects. Three examples will prove this.
First, the physical creation itself has been damaged deeply by sin, as every “natural disaster” suggests.
Second, the moral and cultural worlds certainly demonstrate that something somewhere is seriously askew. Family breakdowns are mirrored by political and economic injustice, scientific arrogance and artistic decadence.
Third, our individual lives have also been deeply distorted by sin. If the Ten Commandments are taken as a thumbnail sketch of normative moral life, then our regular violations show how deep the distortions go. The Bible’s narrative insists that psychological disturbances, physical diseases, and mental illness derive wholly from sin, as initial disobedience morphs and develops into wilful rebellion.
The whole creation and the totality of human life have been corrupted by sin. Some would stress a “total depravity.” This means that there is no thing or person that has not been touched comprehensively by the impact of sin.
God created all of life. All of life has been polluted by sin.
- What is the relation between sin and creation?
Has the good creation actually “gone bad” because of sin? Is the world itself now evil after the fall? The Bible’s answer is no!
Albert Wolters puts it well: “The central point to make is that, biblically speaking, sin neither abolishes nor becomes identified with creation. Creation and sin remain distinct, however closely they may be intertwined in our experience. … In short, evil does not have the power of bring to naught God’s steadfast faithfulness to the works of his hands.”
Evil attaches itself to creation like a cancer and ravages it. Sin deforms the world and makes a caricature of it. Good things are abused by sin, but they are not utterly destroyed. Even in the most perverse situations, the goodness of creation remains intact and always shines through. A bad school is still a school. A broken marriage is still a marriage. A corrupt government is still a government.
The point is that corruption is not creation and we must never confuse the two. There’s a difference between a “barn” and the “rats” that infest it! The farmer targets the rats in order to restore his barn to its proper function. In the same way, God aims redemption at sin in order to get his creation back. Sin is an alien invader, contrary to God’s purposes. It does not belong. It is incapable of destroying God’s handiwork! Creation in any of its forms has not become intrinsically evil. It is in need of redemption.
Bradshaw Frey summed it up well: “When sin entered the world, its effect was to pervert Creation, not to destroy it. This perversion was thorough and encompassed every aspect of creation, but God did not let the very structure or order of creation tumble. Sin is an alien invasion. It is parasitic. Sin can live off creation, but it cannot replace it.”
- What is “worldliness”?
Christians often define “worldliness” as any realm of life not directly related to the Church. Examples might include such areas as politics, business, art, music, education, journalism, sports, entertainment, work, fashion, food, the media –quite a wide area of activities, really! If an activity is not explicitly spiritual like prayer, Bible study, fellowship, or evangelism, then some would classify it as “unspiritual” and possibly suspect.
However, this is not what the Bible means by worldliness. Worldliness consists not in things or realms per se, but in their misdirection away from God. Fallen human beings regularly abuse what God has made and that is exactly what “worldliness” is: the perverted creation.
For example, words are the gifts of God, but they can be easily misused. In complaining about false teaching, St. Augustine said, “I bring no charge against the words which are like exquisite and precious vessels, but the wine of error is poured into them for us by drunken teachers.” He carefully distinguishes between the structure of words and their direction. We must do the same. We can bring no charge against anything God has made, but we can distort everything He has made. Worldliness consists in this unfortunate distortion. In short, it is sin.
Now if worldliness consists of making bad use of good things, then godliness consists of making the right use of good things. Believers in Christ have the potential of redirecting every realm of life to its divinely intended purpose, making it holy. We can pour truth into the exquisite vessels of words. We can restore broken relationships. We can change unjust political practices. We can heal shattered families. We can renovate corrupt businesses. We can rehabilitate bad schools. We can transform decadence in the arts. We can renew a sense of calling in the work place. The whole of life has the potential of being restored through its proper redirection.
Everything God created is good. The fall twisted it all, making it “worldly.” Redemption turns all things back toward Him, making them new again! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Why does God judge us? The Bible is clear on the point: “But you are pure and cannot stand the sight of evil. (Habakkuk 1:13)
God judges because he is righteous and holy. In Revelation 4:8, we read about angelic beings coming before the Lord, not resting day or night, and repeating over and over again, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty-the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”
The holiness of God forbids the entrance of sin.
Many shy away from thinking about God’s judgement, though they have no difficulty recognising their own sinfulness or the world’s evil.
The idea of judgement forces reaction.
It warns us. And it is supposed to. When we see what happens to others who disregard what God’s Word says, it should cause us to think twice about what we are about to do. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians10:6: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”
It sobers us. It forces us to reassess the way we have been living our lives and hopefully change our priorities. Though it is a painful awakening, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, “Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
It humbles us. God’s judgment strips away our self-righteousness and reminds us about our real state of affairs. It reminds us that we are not really in control of our lives and how we really need God.
It reassures us. The fact that there will be a final judgment reassures us there is justice in the universe. We all know of wicked people in the world who deserve judgment. The Bible says there is a final court of arbitration, and God keeps meticulous records of everything that happens in this world. The wicked will be held accountable for what they have done.
And it is reassuring to know there ultimately will be justice.